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DeSantis initially ‘not particularly enthusiastic’ about ousting Andrew Warren, deposition says

Court records detail the road to the suspension of Hillsborough State Attorney Warren, who’s suing to get the job back.
Florida Gov Ron DeSantis announces the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren at an August news conference.
Florida Gov Ron DeSantis announces the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren at an August news conference. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 16|Updated Nov. 16

Flanked by law enforcement officers at an August news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the unprecedented ousting of the Hillsborough County state attorney he said refused to follow the law.

But according to court records, the governor was initially concerned and “not particularly enthusiastic” about removing Andrew Warren from office before any actual crime had been committed for Warren to consider prosecuting.

The governor “expressed concern that suspension based on a pledge (not to prosecute) perhaps could be viewed as not a neglect of duty under the law,” DeSantis’ general counsel Ryan Newman recently testified in a video deposition. “A pledge before a crime was actually committed, he was concerned about.”

Newman said he, too, was aware there could be “valid objections.”

That’s a key point Warren’s lawyers are expected to argue in the upcoming federal trial to try to win his job back.

The issue centers on two documents Warren signed along with other elected officials pledging not to prosecute cases involving abortion or transgender health care. The governor’s executive order suspending him pointed to those pledges as evidence of Warren’s neglect of duty. But Warren has said no such cases have ever come before him to decide on. He called his ouster by the Republican governor political payback and a violation of free speech.

Andrew Warren, the ousted Hillsborough state attorney, prepares for an appearance on CNN after he filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back.
Andrew Warren, the ousted Hillsborough state attorney, prepares for an appearance on CNN after he filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

In his deposition, Newman said that in further discussion with the governor, they agreed that a pledge to not prosecute a specific type of case — such as the murders of “certain classes of victim” — indeed warranted suspension.

According to court records, the investigation that led to Warren’s removal began when, at a December meeting on unrelated matters, the governor asked unprompted whether any Florida state attorneys were not enforcing the law. His public safety czar, Larry Keefe, who took on the months-long investigation, said in his deposition that “all roads led to Mr. Warren.” They did not have a formal report of the statewide investigation, the governor’s chief deputy general counsel Raymond Treadwell said in his deposition.

Keefe said he talked with law enforcement officials, including “a lot of communication with (Hillsborough) Sheriff (Chad) Chronister.” Chronister had delivered to the governor’s office a folder of materials including Warren’s policy on not pursuing certain low-level crimes, according to court records.

The governor’s suspension order cited those policies against prosecuting specific nonviolent misdemeanors or arrests that stemmed from police stopping a bicyclist or pedestrian — known locally as biking while Black.

Warren has said these were not blanket polices, and assistant state attorneys were required to use their judgement and discretion.

An early draft of the suspension order included references to the death penalty, a note that Warren had condemned recently enacted election security laws and the term “progressive prosecutor,” according to court records. All were edited out in the final version.

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“Was Mr. Warren being a progressive prosecutor a factor considered in drafting the executive order?” one of Warren’s attorneys asked Treadwell.

“His identity as a so-called progressive prosecutor was not a factor in the suspension,” Treadwell said. “We suspended him based on his actions to nullify Florida law.”

The governor’s office did not return emails requesting comment Wednesday. A spokesperson previously told the Tampa Bay Times that any comment regarding the pending court matter would be contained in their legal filings.

The governor’s attorneys are currently fighting to keep him from being called to testify at the trial. They cite a doctrine that protects high-ranking officials and says a designated surrogate could be called in his place. They also contend the case is not “extraordinary” enough to warrant testimony from a governor.

Warren “has more than enough evidence to discern the governor’s motives without hauling Florida’s top executive officials into court,” their motion contends.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle is expected to rule on that matter sometime before the nonjury trial begins Nov. 29.

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